Shocked by an Indian

Not too long ago, the Nigerian media space was awash with the story of a security man, named Musa Usman, working for a firm run by an Indian boss. What caught the attention of all and sundry was an unusual exhibition of altruism by the ‘maigadi’ as local security men are commonly referred to.

As a reward for his meritorious years of service to the firm that spanned over 25 years, the boss decided to build a modest house for the loyal staff in his village in Jigawa. In a country where most security men are known to connive with criminal elements to rob or murder their masters, or even turn around to deliver them to kidnappers, the Indian boss, who is also the Managing Director/CEO of the popular Lagos–based Jawa Pharmaceutical firm, had every reason to handsomely compensate his guard with a house as part of his retirement benefits.

However, the security man behaved contrary to what 99 per cent of his compatriots would have done. Instead of hymning ‘Alhamdulillah’, he must have shocked his beneficiary when he turned down the generous offer and opted for a borehole to be sunk in his community for the benefit of all. It was quite a tempting offer and difficult to resist. But Musa did.

What actually shocked me was not only the selfless posture of the Fulani man but also the generosity of the Indian boss, named Mr. Varkey Verghese. An average Indian is known to be parsimonious to a fault. For an Indian to compensate an employee with a house even as small as a two-room BQ is something to attract a Nobel Prize. Those who have lived and worked with Indians will understand what I am talking about.   

In the 70s and early 80s, most secondary schools in the country, especially in the northern parts were swarming with Indian tutors and a sprinkling of Pakistanis here and there. They were famous for their heavy moustaches and beards with turbans to match. The average Indians ooze a peculiar (whiffy) body odour that announces their presence. Even long after leaving a particular spot, the tell-tale scent could linger for hours unless you attack it with a deodorant! It took me years to know that the familiar odour was as a result of many years of garlic consumption. If you have a very strong sense of smell, chances are that you will easily throw up on encountering a heavily garlicked Indian man or woman.

An age-long legend has it that the Indians soaked themselves in garlic because the population of snakes in their country outflanks that of humans. That means is home to more than a billion snakes. Spiritually, it is believed that snakes cannot withstand the smell of onions not to speak of its cousin – garlic. In other words, bearing the offensive scent of garlic would keep the reptiles at an arm’s length. There are other health benefits of garlic which l exploited much later in life. You can ask Google. And it got to a stage that woe betide you if I belched close to you. Not only that, you dared not enter the toilet hours after I had used the loo!

I had an Indian friend who was lecturing at the Advanced Teachers’ College (ATC), Jos, which later metamorphosed into the College of Education before the institution was transferred to Akwanga in the present-day Nasarawa state. His combative name is (wait for it) Venkateswarlu (note the ‘war’ in the name). I can’t remember his first name now because he was fondly called Dr. Venkat by everyone to escape the danger of twisting our tongues or murdering the name. Before I met Dr. Venkat, who later climbed to the zenith of his career as a professor of Physical and Health Education at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, I had come across a handful of Indian teachers in faraway Birnin Kebbi. While everyone would be disposing of empty tins of Ovaltine, Peak milk, etc., the Indian women would be gathering them into sacks. Then, they would tell their housekeepers to look out for buyers of the items. They would personally supervise the sale and collect the cash without looking in the direction of their domestic servants.

So stingy were the Indians that they shunned big automobiles and opted for the people’s cars by which Volkswagen Beatles were popularly known. The Beatles were easy to maintain and had low fuel consumption. A story was told of an Indian tutor who took possession of a Beatle car. He opened what was supposed to be the bonnet to inspect the engine only to be confronted with the spare tyre. He looked at the driver that brought the car and wondered aloud: “How come that you drove this car without an engine?!” It was obvious that the man had not seen a Beatle car in his life to know that the car’s engine was usually fitted at the back.

The Venkats’ parsimony was legendary. Whenever I visited the family, the wife would emerge with glasses of Fanta or Coca Cola diluted with water and served in a tray. I have never been a friend of Fanta… or soft drinks generally. But out of politeness, I would accept the drink, more so that the sweetness had been watered down. Curiously, the Venkats would not mind taking undiluted minerals whenever they came visiting me!

Do you know that we have the Nigerian version of Indians? Yes, we have! They are the Ijebus, the tribe that our Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, belongs to. Their middle name is parsimony. Small wonder, the diminutive Prof and his lanky principal, Parsimonious Muhammadu Buhari (PMB), understand each other so well. Buhari can live on “fura da nono” (gruel made from millet and fresh cow milk) throughout the Ramadan, just as his VP can survive on Ijebu garri and groundnuts throughout a Lent.

Now, back to Mr. Verghese. The cost of sinking the borehole was not stated. But there is no way that a borehole would gulp as much as a house. So, rather than “punishing” him for his selfless nature by just sinking a borehole for the community, his benefactor should, for just a brief moment, be unIndian by going the extra mile to add a house, even if it means scaling down the project.

Musa Usman is not a politician seeking elective position in his locality. In fact, he does not look like someone who can win an election in his ward.  So, he placed the comfort of his community well above becoming a proud owner of a house. It is only politicians that can make any sacrifice in anticipation of something in return. In saner climes, the Jigawa state Government would have stepped in to build a house for this rare Nigerian who preferred to remain a tenant so that his people could have access to safe and clean water.

Is there any other Nigerian who can make such a personal sacrifice while expecting nothing in return? Such a kind-hearted individual should raise up his/her hand… no one!

Post Script: I was heading for the press when my eyes fell on the good tidings that another boss has set the ball rolling by donating a princely sum of N500,000 at the launch of a housing project tagged Shelter4MusaUsman Campaign organised by Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Media Network in Abuja two or so days ago. The donor is none other than Mr. Boss Mustapha, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). I urge other well-meaning Nigerians to join the big Boss in celebrating this Fulani gem.

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